One reason that serendipity plays such a large role in discoveries and inventions is that our minds are limited
As Pasteur himself commented, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
One reason that serendipity plays such a large role in discoveries and inventions is that our minds are limited. We cannot explore all avenues and imagine every possibility.
Random external stimuli lead us to associations we cannot come by on our own. Like seeds floating in space, they require the soil of a highly prepared and open mind to take root in and sprout a meaningful idea.
Serendipity strategies can be interesting devices in the arts as well. For instance, the writer Anthony Burgess, trying to free his mind up from the same stale ideas, decided on several occasions to choose random words in a reference book and use them to guide the plot of a novel, according to the order and associations of the words. Once he had completely haphazard starting points, his conscious mind took over and he worked them into extremely well-crafted novels with surprising structures.
The surrealist artist Max Ernst did something similar in a series of paintings inspired by the deep grooves in a wood floor that had been scrubbed too many times. He laid pieces of paper rubbed with black lead on the floor at odd angles, and made prints of them. Based on these prints, he proceeded to make surreal and hallucinatory drawings. In these examples, a random idea was used to force the mind to create novel associations and to loosen up the creative urge. This mix of complete chance and conscious elaboration often creates novel and exciting effects.
To help yourself to cultivate serendipity, you should keep a notebook with you at all times. The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down. You keep the notebook by your bed, careful to record ideas that come in those moments of fringe awareness—just before falling asleep, or just upon waking. In this notebook you record any scrap of thought that occurs to you, and include drawings, quotes from other books, anything at all. In this way, you will have the freedom to try out the most absurd ideas. The juxtaposition of so many random bits will be enough to spark various associations.
Mastery by Robert Greene
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
Click to set custom HTML
Disclosure of Material Connection:
Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”